Olympics and Politics

“The Purpose of the International Olympic Committee is to:…Cooperate with the competent public or private organizations and authorities in the endeavor to place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace;…Act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement;…Encourage and support the promotion of women in sport at all levels and in all structures with a view to implementing the principle of equality of men and women;…”– From the Charter of the International Olympic Committee

There are many who claim we should make the Olympics as apolitical as possible. This is a time for sports and athleticism to be held up and to separate the athletes from the political policies of their member nations. And while I see the importance of this argument, I do not agree with it entirely. There are indeed dangers of confusing the athletes for the national government leaders they represent, much like the 1972 tragedy in Munich when members of the Israeli Olympic Team were taken hostage and killed by the Palestinian group Black September

Athleticism and sportsmanship can be an excellent venue to bring people together to celebrate. And there are times when the successes of athletes can be a political inspiration for many. The games themselves can be a source of political motivation and encouragement for national growth. Throughout the last 100 years of Olympic Games, we have seen athletes inspired us to rise to the challenge of peace and equality.

Take for instance the perseverance of Stamata Revithi, the Greek woman considered to be the first female Olympic athlete. Although women were not permitted to participate in the first Olympic Games in 1896, she ran the marathon regardless of the rules. The next year, women were allowed to participate in the Games. Revithi was able to prove to the world the strength and capability of women to participate as equals with men.

Another example politically inspiring athletics is the success of Jesse Owens during the 1936 Berlin Games. Owens, a Black American, defeated Hitler’s prized athlete, Luz Long, in the long jump. This was a notable moment in the years leading up to World War II in which a Black American succeeded over a celebrity of the Third Reich. It is even more notable that Owens’ success was due to advice from Long himself. Long’s sportsmanship and sense of fair play outweighed political pressures to uphold white supremacy. Owens went on to win four track and field gold medals that year, smashing the Nazi myth of Aryan racial superiority.

During the 1960 Summer Games in Rome, Italy, the Ethiopian marathon star Abebe Bikila won gold in the nation that once held his nation as a colony, showing the strength of former colonies in a post-colonial world. In this same year, Black American athletes Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) and Wilma Rudolph met Soviet criticism of racial segregation in the United States with gold medals. However, it was precisely because of the Olympics and Soviet criticism that these athletes were able to take such a pivotal role in American culture. 1960 also marked the first time the Paralympics were played for athletes with physical, mental and sensory disabilities.

Eight years later in Mexico City, Black American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos held Black Power salutes while on the victory blocks for their gold and silver medals respectively. This was a message to their home nation that they were not to be seen as second-class citizens.

During the height of the Cold War, The United States boycotted the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow while the Soviets boycotted the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. But these were not the first Olympic boycotts. In 1956, the Games were boycotted by several nations due to the Soviet repression of Hungary.

In 1980, the US Ice Hockey Olympic Team beat the USSR Olympic Team in the final round at the Lake Placid Winter Games. The Russians were heavily favored to win. But the team of largely amateur athletes defeated the Soviet team completely composed of active duty Red Army by scoring the winning point in the last five seconds of the game. This was seen as a major political victory for Cold War era United States.

I understand the allure of letting the Olympics be the Olympics. I understand why we may not want politics to get in the way of the athleticism. However, just as we ask our athletes to be the best they can and strive as hard as they can, we must also ask the nations of the world to strive to be the best they can. The Olympics are an excellent opportunity for international dialog and discussion apart from embassies and statesmen. To ignore this space for growth is foolhardy. Today, the Olympics are an excellent forum for our nations. We must demand further accountability of China for its human rights abuses and its involvement in Darfur and Myanmar/Burma. We must call upon the United States to recognize international environmental policy. We must decry Russia’s attack on Georgia during the opening ceremonies. And we must recognize the successes on the international stage.

No matter how much we try to pull politics out of the Olympics, we will fail in that endeavor because it is inherent in the IOC charter that the Olympics will always be a political event–one that promotes peace, prosperity and equality.

Hiroshima Day

On this day in 1945, President Harry S. Truman’s order to use nuclear weapons against the Japanese was fulfilled. The bomb, nicknamed Little Boy, was dropped from the B-29 Bomber Enola Gay by Col. Paul Tibbets on the city of Hiroshima. The blast had the equivalent to approximately 13 to 16 thousand tons of TNT.

Some 66,000 people were killed. And another 69,000 were injured according to estimations from the US Dept. of Energy.

Today, we recognize all the lives lost or destroyed in Hiroshima.

On a day like today, only the words of poetry are able to express the pain of the world.

“There came a Wind like a Bugle,” by Emily Dickinson.

There came a Wind like a Bugle-
It quivered through the Grass
And a Green Chill upon the Heat
So ominous did pass
We barred the Windows and the Doors
As from an Emerald Ghost-
The Doom’s electric Moccasin
That very instant passed-
On a strange Mob of panting Trees
And Fences fled away
And Rivers where the Houses ran
Those looked that lived-that Day-
The Bell within the steeple wild
The flying tidings told-
How much can come
And much can go,
And yet abide the World!

Ending a Culture of Rape in the Military

Social theorists from feminist sociologists, like Audre Lorde, to institutional anthropologists, like Michel Foucault, agree that rape is never about sex. Rape is about power. Rape and sexual abuse dehumanizes and humiliates its victims. Its effects ripple through societies beyond those who are abused. This is why rape has been used as a very effective tool by invading armies. It has been documented that rape and sexual humiliation have been used in nearly every war since the Roman Empire. And it is widely recognized as a tool of genocide. Rape has been found in the holocaust as well as the Serbian, Rwandan and Sudanese genocides. And it has been a tool of torture in many international conflicts.

The effects of rape include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and often share similar results to what veterans of war and conflict experience. People who experience sexual violence during war time suffer the dual stress of sexual violence and war. It is for these reasons and more, the use of sexual violence is banned under international law as a crime against humanity.

It should come as no surprise, however, with this long history of rape in wartime, that reports of sexual violence and humiliation at the hands of U.S. soldiers are making their way into the public. Three years ago when pictures of sexual humiliation and sodomy came out of Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq, the public was outraged—and rightly so. But the media, public opinion and the Department of Defense all categorized it as a fluke. Recently, though, we have come to realize that Abu Ghraib was not a fluke, but rather, a harbinger of events to come.

In July of 2006, a group of U.S. service members were investigated by The Pentagon for allegedly raping and killing an Iraqi civilian. And similar stories of soldiers raping women in Iraq are more common that we wish. A horrific story involving a KBR contractor being imprisoned and raped by her colleagues chilled the nation. Last February, a New York Times article reported these are just few of 124 reported sexual assaults investigated in Iraq since 2005. But what is more disturbing is the fact that more than 2,200 sexual assaults have been investigated by the Department of Defense in 2006 alone. It is unknown how many of these took place in Iraq.

A culture of rape is very real in the U.S. Military and it can no longer be ignored. Gruesome accounts of sexual violence between soldiers, military contractors and civilians are all too regular. And the Department of Defense cannot consider these as isolated incidents. As women service members have called for more accountability, the DoD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office reached out to organizations like the Miles Foundation and Men Can Stop Rape to address the very real culture of rape facing our military. Currently the Veteran Affairs has sixteen care centers for veterans who have experienced sexual assault—many of whom experienced their trauma as far back as Vietnam or World War II.

Currently, the organization Color of Change is calling for Congress to investigate the apparent rape and murder of Pfc. LaVena Johnson in Iraq. Please visit their campaign for Pfc. Johnson. And to learn more about the DoD is working to prevent sexual assault, please visit the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office website at http://www.sapr.mil/.

Bush Signs Final War Funding of His Presidency

On Monday, June 30th, President Bush signed the last major war funding bill of his presidency. The Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2008, totals $162 billion and will fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars through the beginning of 2009. The supplemental includes $21.1 billion for a host of domestic programs, including $2.7 billion for Midwest flood relief, a 12 week extension of unemployment benefits, $5.8 billion to rebuild the levees destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and a new G.I. Bill that will provide educational benefits for veterans who signed up for service after September 11th, 2001.

These important forward thinking domestic initiatives are cause to celebrate. And, in a twisted sort of way, the signing of Bush’s last war funding bill is also cause for celebration; even though it cost the American taxpayers $600 billion dollars to reach this milestone (these costs were assessed when the Unitarian Universalist Association issued its Moral Balance Sheet over a year ago and again when the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee looked at the costs of the war during this year’s Justice Sunday).

Of all the egregious atrocities this administration has committed in the name of the American people, the Iraq war stands out as the most shameful and immoral. As we are forced to swallow a final helping of our children’s yet-earned money, let us hope – and through our work ensure – that the next time our Congress takes up the business of funding this war it will be to end the occupation. With Bush’s war chest running out, let us envision a responsible global engagement that honors both our democratic core principles and the international community of nations. May that vision soon come to life.

No Justice, No Peace

This week marks my one year anniversary working for the Unitarian Universalist Association as the Program Associate for Peacemaking. Working with amazing theologians, peace activists and dedicated Unitarian Universalists, I have learned a lot about what UU peacemaking looks like. In the next few days, I will be sharing just a few of the many realizations I have made when it comes to UU Peacemaking.

Monday: No Creed, No Peace Testament
Tuesday: Unitarian*Universalists’ long and difficult relationship with peace
Wednesday: Just War and Pacifism—A False Dichotomy
Thursday: Theology of Conflict
Friday: No Justice, No Peace

This is an updated post I wrote a year ago called Honor Your Work.

I meet a lot of people who did not realize how much peacemaking they are doing right now.

Many people I have met over the past year would tell me something like, “I want to get involved, but I don’t know where to start.” Or they would say, “My congregation wants to talk about peace but we are apprehensive about being vocal around the war.” When I met people who say things like that, I would ask them a question: What are you doing right now to promote peace? It is an easy enough question to answer. After some coaxing, I finally would reveal the good work they were already doing.

I heard stories about Welcoming Congregations working to promote dialog around Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender/sexual, and Queer issues. I found groups working on Anti-Racism/Anti-Oppression work. There are churches that work with local homeless shelters. There are fellowships with community gardens. These are all peace issues. While they may not seem like much in the scale of global conflict, it is doing a lot on an interpersonal level.

Let’s take a moment to investigate the multifaceted aspects of peace. Peace theorists and researchers look to peace, conflict and violence on a three fold level: micro, meso, and macro. Each of these levels has certain characteristics. Without working on one level, the efforts on another can be lost.

Micro relations are interpersonal. For conflict, this could come in the form of an argument or fight. Micro level peace work focuses on giving individuals the skills for resolving conflicts without resorting to violence. This could be as small as tutoring a student or as large as conflict resolution training and nonviolent communication skills.

Meso relations are community wide. This is the level where power structures can really take form. We see meso relations in terms of family structures, churches and religious institutions, and school systems. Here we can even go as broad as global institutions such as the media or political systems. Meso level violence can be as small scale and apparent as localized crime to as ambient as racism and sexism. Meso level peacemaking works with the communities in order to challenge those power structures. They could include community gardens, interfaith/cultural dialog, or prison ministries. A good word to remember the meso level is “institutions”. A good image to remember it is this: where the micro and macro overlap.

The final level of relations is Macro. Macro relations are not only international, they are also intercultural. Here we see the globalized manifestation of violence, conflict and peace. It, in many ways, is the global manifestation of meso level relations. War, environmental degradation and global racism are all macro level forms of violence. Macro peacemaking works in coalitions to challenge the regimes of cultural and institutionalized violence. Here is the international/intercultural level of relations.

When we begin to look at peace, conflict and violence on micro, meso and macro levels, all work for justice becomes work for peace. To challenge the power structures that promote violent conflict through education, community building and global understanding is a work for peace. So be proud of the work you and your congregations are doing. It is up to you to find the spaces that need to be mended. It is impossible to be working on all levels at the same time, but on all levels we must work. While one group is working on ending the war in Iraq, another is working on feeding the homeless and the hungry. While one group is tutoring children at a struggling school in a rough neighborhood, another is fighting oppression in their homes.

There is so much work to be done. Honor your work. Honor the work of others. Celebrate victories. Each individual victory for justice is a collective victory for peace. And, the most difficult recognition of all, recognize that people are doing what they are doing because they can do nothing else. Individual paths take us in individual directions. Coalitions bring different goals and tactics together. And while it may bring conflict, it also brings diversity. Recognize your micro, meso and macro conflicts and work on your micro, meso and macro peacemaking. Find what calls you and follow your passions. Because as Henry Louis Mencken said, “If you want peace, work for justice.

Theology of Conflict

This week marks my one year anniversary working for the Unitarian Universalist Association as the Program Associate for Peacemaking. Working with amazing theologians, peace activists and dedicated Unitarian Universalists, I have learned a lot about what UU peacemaking looks like. In the next few days, I will be sharing just a few of the many realizations I have made when it comes to UU Peacemaking.

Monday: No Creed, No Peace Testament
Tuesday: Unitarian*Universalists’ long and difficult relationship with peace
Wednesday: Just War and Pacifism—A False Dichotomy
Thursday: Theology of Conflict
Friday: No Justice, No Peace

Today’s post is my first real foray into theology. As a religious studies student in college, I had to write a lot of theological papers. But this is the first theological theory I have come up with myself.

In our Western Worldviews, conflict is something we avoid like the plague. It makes us uneasy. It makes us feel emotions that are not pleasant. When conflict arises, we run the opposite direction. Especially for UU’s, who honor the “individual search for truth and meaning,” our need to express ourselves takes a back seat to making others comfortable.

But, I say we should acknowledge our conflicts as divine gifts. In traditional American Unitarian theology, we hold our abilities to discern, use logic, and self-determination as gifts endowed to us from the Universe/Creator. As we utilize these gifts, we are able to grow and learn and discern our hopes, fears, needs and desires.

Unfortunately, these needs and desires sometimes are different of those around us, causing strain on our relationships. This is conflict. If we recognize that our conflicts are not beyond us, but rather, are part of us, we look at our conflicts in a different light. Our conflicts are a result of our divinely endowed free will and self-determination.

Furthermore, in the traditional Universalist theology, our salvation comes with our community. By working with one another, we find ourselves saved through our interactions. As social creatures, we rely on each other to accomplish larger tasks. We also rely on one another to help us through difficult or trying times. Many today call this responsibility and salvation through community “accountability.”

This combination of our traditional theologies, divine guidance from within and salvation through community, shows us that we cannot be fully human without our–sometimes taxing–relationships with each other. We see that our conflicts, resulting from free will and community, are really divine gifts.

It may sound strange to say, “our conflicts are divine gifts.” Conflict gives us an opportunity to grow, learn and change from one another. Conflict is a way to step out of our day to day routine to address and reassess our presuppositions and ideals. It is also a time for us to call one another to accountability to ourselves and each other.

By ignoring or avoiding our conflicts, we deny the divinity of our humanity in community. Instead of avoidance, we must recognize our conflicts as opportunities to be in communion with our divine community. We must treat each other with compassion and respect. We must be open minded to the needs and desires of other people–especially when their needs are different from our own. This does not mean abandoning our own needs, but being open to the liberatory nature of conflict.

So, next time you find yourself in conflict, be thankful for this opportunity to learn from it. Be open and compassionate. And saved once again by the liberation of conflict.

Just War and Pacifism—A False Dichotomy

This week marks my one year anniversary working for the Unitarian Universalist Association as the Program Associate for Peacemaking. Working with amazing theologians, peace activists and dedicated Unitarian Universalists, I have learned a lot about what UU peacemaking looks like. In the next few days, I will be sharing just a few of the many realizations I have made when it comes to UU Peacemaking.

Monday: No Creed, No Peace Testament
Tuesday: Unitarian*Universalists’ long and difficult relationship with peace
Wednesday: Just War and Pacifism—A False Dichotomy
Thursday: Theology of Conflict
Friday: No Justice, No Peace

Just War and Pacifism—A False Dichotomy

As we have engaged in our Congregational Study/Action Issue on peace in our faith community, we have run up against a rather large wall. Many people think it is folly to study peace. People are afraid that if we devote our lives to peace, we will have to reject all violence. To reject violence in all its forms could essentially tie our hands when it comes to protecting ourselves and each other.

In our world, we seem to be given two choices in the face of violence: to not react to the violence in the name of peace; or, to strike back in a way that is just and responsible.

However, to try to squeeze our lives into one of these world views or the other is extremely difficult. The balance between Just War and pacifism is tenuous when they are our only choices.

Take for instance, Just War–a medieval Christian philosophy developed by St. Thomas Aquinas about the moral responsibility of governments and armies while waging war. It reminds us that war is ultimately for protecting the good of the society. A good war, according to Just War theory, prevents damage to civilians, is retaliatory in nature and is comparative in size to the initial damages. By following these rules, war can be moral and just. However, we find that Just War may work in theory but rarely (if ever) in practice. We find it is much more just and moral to prevent war in the first place.

The other option is pacifism. Pacifism is a spiritual and political practice that prevents people from using violence in any form. Rather, pacifists choose to interact with the world without using force. Pacifism prevents followers from joining the military or police forces. Many pacifists also eat plant based diets and refuse participation in other violent aspects of our society. But many critics of pacifism question this practice in the face of intense and personal violence such as the case of invasion of house or home, sexual assault, or genocide. Much like Just War Theory, pacifism cannot work for everyone in every situation.

Where does that leave us? We, as compassionate people, find war unpalatable but also feel an urge to protect society.

If we are to look at Just War and pacifism as the only two options, we don’t have a whole lot of choices. We will be constantly oscillating between two impossible points, neither of which are all that liberatory. However, what if Just War and pacifism are two points on a spectrum of behavior and beliefs?

If we are to create this spectrum where people are free to move from one end to another according to different situations and scenarios, we are able to work for justice at all points. After all, direct physical violence is only one type of violence. Political structures and cultural mores can also give deep psychological or physical violence that could add to the direct, physical violence that occasionally erupts.

So, as we move on our spectrum from pacifism to Just War and back, we are able to address all forms of violence rather than reject it. We can use political and economic force against nations and companies that uphold genocidal policies in Darfur, as well as send peacekeeping troops.
We can empower the police to protect the streets and resist people who may want to do us harm. We can also struggle against unjust structures or cultural expectations that harm our psyches and souls such as inequal health care systems or racism and homophobia.

Furthermore, we can explore new possibilities for building justice rather than specifically working to end violence. We can imagine worlds in which wars are not necessary and conflicts are dealt with in a healthy and transformative manner. This is the difference between Negative Peace and Positive Peace I wrote about a year ago.

So, in the end, we find that Just War vs. pacifism is a false dichotomy. Instead, they are two points on a spectrum that welcomes all instead of alienating others. The Unitarian Universalist search for peace is not intended to determine whether Just War or pacifism are the ideals we uphold, but how do we react to conflict in a manner that heals the world.

For more information on how we balance pacifism and Just War in our daily lives, please read this small group ministries curriculum I developed on the topic. Or listen to our previous teleseminars from UU theologians and leaders on peacemaking.

Unitarian*Universalists Long, Difficult Relationship With Peace

This week marks my one year anniversary working for the Unitarian Universalist Association as the Program Associate for Peacemaking. Working with amazing theologians, peace activists and dedicated Unitarian Universalists, I have learned a lot about what UU peacemaking looks like. In the next few days, I will be sharing just a few of the many realizations I have made when it comes to UU Peacemaking.

Monday: No Creed, No Peace Testament
• Tuesday: Unitarian*Universalists’ long and difficult relationship with peace
• Wednesday: Just War and Pacifism—A tight dichotomy
• Thursday: Theology of Conflict
• Friday: No Justice, No Peace

Unitarian*Universalists’ Long and Difficult Relationship With Peace-

When we look to our Unitarian and Universalist forebears, it is easy to think that we have a historical monopoly on peace activities. That we, as a movement, have always stood on the side of peace and justice. And while it is easy, it is not always accurate.

As we look for inspiration in our UU peace movement, the names are plentiful. Our history is rich with abolitionists, pacifists, social movement leaders, progressive theologians and artists.

However, without adequately addressing all sides of the issues on European and American Unitarian*Universalist histories, we are missing a lot of infamous names. And by ignoring these names, it does not fully recognize our movement’s long and sometimes difficult relationship with peace.

We often point to President John Q. Adams, an outspoken abolitionist who defended the slaves in the famous Amistad Case as one of our forefathers. And rightly so. He helped create the First Unitarian Church of Washington, now known as All Souls Church, Unitarian. But, we tend to forget that John Q. Adams cofounder of First Unitarian was John C. Calhoun, noted defender of Slavery and States’ Rights. Similarly, while there were many other Unitarian and Universalist abolitionists there were others who owned slaves or defended the practice.

And while we point to the people who worked as allies in the fight for human and civil rights, people like James Reeb, Viola Liuzzo, and Waitstill and Martha Sharp, we tend to gloss over some of our less savory members who profited from oppression of people and the land. People like James Drummond Dole, who started Dole Pineapple Company after the overthrow of the native Hawaiian government by his first cousin.

And while we claim many peace activists–including several Nobel Peace Prize winners–as our own, we forget that two Secretaries of Defense under the Clinton Administration, William Perry and William Cohen were Unitarian Universalists. Both of whom oversaw American bombings in Bosnia and Iraq. We also tend to ignore that Neville Chamberlin was an outspoken Unitarian his whole life; possibly because of his general diplomatic failure in the years leading up to World War II.

Then there is the often difficult relationship we have with historic figures who have done both things we approve of and things we disapprove of. For instance, we uphold Julia Ward Howe as an abolitionist, peace activist and suffragette. We, however, we tend to ignore the fact that she wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a song that is hardly pacifist in nature.

Or take Margaret Sanger. Sanger, who began Planned Parenthood, was until recently, proudly named as one of our foremothers for her work on reproductive justice and feminist ideals. However, we have abandoned her because of her racist, pro-eugenics stance for birth control. Some people go as far as to discredit any claim of her as a Unitarian.

There are literally hundreds more names we could pull out who make us embarrassed or ashamed of our history. But they are difficult to find. We tend to bury them in our obscured past. Or creatively rewrite history. And in whispered voices, we sometimes admit to ourselves that we do not actually have a monopoly on peace and social reform. But it is OK not to have that monopoly.

We should not demand perfection of our past. We cannot always expect a historical figure with whom we can claim the moral high ground. To actually admit our past mistakes and learn how to be more accountable is more radical than always claiming that our past gives us the foresight to move ahead.

This is why the Unitarian Universalist Association is participating in its Truth, Repair and Reconciliation Process. Part of a true peacemaking is uncovering misdeeds, admitting mistakes, and working in an accountable way to make sure those mistakes do not happen again. Or conversely, recognizing that as diverse and complicated people, mistakes and misdeeds are bound to happen once again, but committing to work in a spirit of compassion to heal and grow from them.

No Creed, No Peace Testament

This week marks my one year anniversary working for the Unitarian Universalist Association as the Program Associate for Peacemaking. Working with amazing theologians, peace activists and dedicated Unitarian Universalists, I have learned a lot about what UU peacemaking looks like. In the next few days, I will be sharing just a few of the many realizations I have made when it comes to UU Peacemaking.

Monday: No Creed, No Peace Testament
Tuesday: Unitarian*Universalists’ long and difficult relationship with peace
Wednesday: Just War and Pacifism—A False Dichotomy
Thursday: Theology of Conflict
Friday: No Justice, No Peace

No Creed, No Peace Testament-

When, in 2006, the UUA decided to study the role of peacemaking in our movement, many thought we were on the path to becoming a “peace church.” Much like the Quakers, the Mennonites, the Church of the Brethren, Hindus, etc.; we would step up and reject all forms of violence.

I have to tell people weekly, this is not true. Let me repeat, this is not true. We are not becoming a peace church. We cannot just do that. Not today, not tomorrow. In order to be included in that elite group of peace churches, we would need a peace testament. A peace testament is a religious creed based on peace. For the Christian pacifists and others named above, their faith is squarely centered on non-violence. It’s not just that Quakers believe that peace is good. Quakers are Quakers precisely because their theology and spirituality is centered on pacifism.

How does that differ from, say, our sixth principle, which says: “We affirm and promote: The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.”? While our sixth principle does promote peace in our world community, it is not our creed. We covenant to work for our principles and purposes. And while UU’s tend to agree with them, belief in them is not a prerequisite to become a member.

In fact, Unitarian Universalism as a creedless faith is what draws so many of our members to our churches and communities. People are drawn to a faith community where we accept you as you are. We do not have a holy book or a set of rigorous beliefs or religious law. We just ask you to be in our community. We don’t have to believe alike, pray alike or hold similar world views on political practices. In order to become a peace church like the communities named above, we would have to sacrifice the creedless nature of our faith.

This is precisely why we cannot be a peace church. We would have to fundamentally change who we are as a faith. Not that changing our faith would be an inherently bad thing. We change and redefine our faith all the time. However, I think it would be extremely short sighted if we were to change our creedless nature of Unitarian Universalism after four years of study and in the midst of an incredibly unpopular war. That is just one reason why we are not becoming a peace church even though “we affirm and promote: The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.” While we strive for a world community with peace, liberty and justice for all, there are thousands of ways to define what that would look like.

So, if we are not a church of pacifists, what are we? What does UU peacemaking look like? Well, that is what we are working on. Come back to this blog everyday to learn a little bit more of what Unitarian Universalist peacemaking looks like. And check out some of my more informative peace centered blogposts at our old blog: http://uuawo.blogspot.com/2007/07/midterm-review-what-is-peace-studies.html

IFEA- Our Meeting with Iraqi Parliamentarians

On Friday, June 6th, Adam and Alex attended a panel discussion featuring two Iraqi parliamentarians, Sheikh Khalaf Al-Ulayyan, founder of the National Dialogue Council, a nationalist Sunni Islamist political party, and Dr. Nadim Al-Jaberi, co-founder of the al-Fadhila Party, a nationalist Shiite political party. The lawmakers testified before congress earlier in the week. Their visit was arranged by the American Friends Service Committee http://www.afsc.org/, particularly through the work of their consultant, Raed Jarrar. The discussion touched on many issues, including reconciliation within Iraq, the role of the United States in the future of Iraq, oil resources, and the threats faced by Iran and al-qaeda. Here are some brief reports from Adam and Alex…

Adam Reports… It was unequivocally made clear that in their opinion America needs to leave Iraq. Dr. Al-Jaberi responded to the three main fears about what would happen as a result of an American withdrawal. Dr. Al-Jaberi believes, contrary to popular belief:

  1. Iraq will not crumble due to increased sectarian fighting – Such fighting did not exist before America arrived. Iraqis have coexisted peacefully across its sectarian divides since the country came into existence. He does not anticipate any increase of fighting after American withdrawal.
  2. Al-qaeda will not take over – there was no presence of al-qaeda before 2003. The only reason that they have grown and been able to recruit so many people is because they are rallying people around a call for liberation from the Americans. Once America leaves, there will be nothing to rally around.
  3. Iran will take not over – Iran has only been able to gain influence in Iraq under America’s presence.Iran’s main reason for meddling in Iraq’s affairs is that America poises a major threat by being so close to their borders.Iraq has defended itself from Iran throughout its history and is capable of doing so without an American presence.

The lawmakers were also strongly against the proposed Security Agreement by the Bush Administration. Sheikh Al-Ulayyan said that such an agreement would push Iraq from being occupied by America to being part of America. He asserted that it would give the U.S. the rights to use its military bases in Iraq to carry out military missions to any part of the world and that it would give the U.S. the right to arrest any Iraqi without permission of the Government. He thought that it was completely unfair to the Iraqi people.

When asked about the upcoming elections and which of the candidates’ policies they preferred, Dr. Al-Jaberi responded that Iraqis do not rely on a change of faces in Washington to determine their future, they rely on themselves.

Alex reports…the members of Parliament were also adamant that the US State Dept. and Pentagon should give the Iraqi government full self-determination. Especially in the realm of the Reconciliation process, the lawmakers were frustrated by how many times the US had overturned or blocked laws created by Parliament.

Dr. Al-Jaberi told us the US Government blocked a resolution that would grant amnesty to organizations that took up arms against occupying Coalition forces. He believes bringing those groups to the table would be crucial to the Reconciliation process—much like they did in Northern Ireland in the 1990’s. However, the Pentagon is not eager about granting amnesty to these groups.

Sheik Al-Ulyyan was very certain that the reconciliation process could not be successful with a large presence of U.S. and Coalition forces. He said the occupation forces:

  1. ignore or create problems in order to justify their presence;
  2. protect many parties;
  3. refuse to protect other groups as a way of political punishment.

While he did not explain his point of view, it is very interesting to see how Coalition troops are perceived by Iraqi parliamentarians.

Initially, the AFSC had planned to bring many different voices to the table to hear how different political parties are working for the Reconciliation process. Unfortunately, many were unable to attend. I am sure this would have made the conversation much different. However, it was an extremely fascinating conversation and I am glad I was able to attend.